This study provides unique insight into the impact of research experiences on the residency interview discussion. Our data show that 40% of interviewers asked students about their research experiences, providing evidence that discussion of these experiences may provide interviewers with insight into students’ critical thinking skills and ability to be self-directed independent learners. This supports the previously demonstrated observation in the literature that students with a greater number of research experiences are more likely to be successful in the NRMP match.1 These findings also challenge applicants to view these experiences as more than simply a bullet on their resume but rather as a dynamic piece of their application through which they can demonstrate positive attributes to programs during the interview.
Specifically, amongst our cohort of medical students who had completed a mandatory, longitudinal scholarly project, approximately one-third of interviewers utilized this as a discussion topic during the residency interview. This may encourage additional medical schools to consider implementation of a scholarly project within their curriculum to provide additional experiences through which their students can shine in the interview process. Additionally, a student’s chosen specialty, competitiveness of specialty and relatedness of SP topic to their chosen specialty had no significant impact on the proportion of interviewers inquiring about their SP. This may indicate that interviewers are more interested in the types of skills and traits developed through undertaking a scholarly endeavor than the actual topic of the research. Furthermore, this observation may serve to diminish the notion that research is not important for students applying to primary care specialties. Overall, a mandatory scholarly project during medical school appears to benefit students during the interview process regardless of type of specialty they apply to and the relatedness of their research topic to this specialty.
As NRMP data suggests students with a greater number of publications and presentations are more likely to be successful in the match than their peers1. This may lead students to believe that research is only valuable on their application if these milestones are obtained, however, the findings of this study suggest that research may be important as a discussion topic during the interview regardless of whether it received publication and presentation status. It is likely that interviewers see value in discussing these academic endeavors with students regardless of the project’s result.
There are two circumstances in which students may anticipate a greater number of interview questions about their SP. First, if the residency setting is academic the percentage of interviewers asking about a student’s SP increases from 33–50%. It is understandable that interviewers at academic programs may use research endeavors to learn more about an applicant’s attributes while interviewers at community programs may utilize alternative discussion topics to get to know the applicant. Second, students who undertake additional research beyond their mandated SP receive a greater number of interview questions about the topic compared to those students who do not undertake additional research, 50% compared to 29%, respectively. It is reasonable that with research experiences making up a more substantial piece of these student’s extracurricular activities, the SP, as a piece of the research portfolio, becomes a more frequent part of the interview discussion than students who only completed mandatory research requirements.
While multiple interesting observations can be noted from the results of this study, there are numerous limitations including a small sample size of residency applicants from only a single medical school. The retrospective nature of the survey lends itself to recall bias in which survey participants may not have been accurate in their estimations of the number of interviewers asking them about their experiences. There was range of one to four months between student completion of interviews and participation in the study survey. Despite these limitations, this study provides some of the first quantitative observations about the topics of discussion during the residency interview. Its observations will help to guide future medical students within our institution with regards to the impact of their scholarly project in the residency interview and it is our hope these observations may have utilization for research programs at other schools of medicine as well.